Aesop Rock & Blockhead
When it comes to shadowy underground hip-hop initiated in the ’90s and righteously relevant in the present, producer Blockhead and rapper Aesop Rock have managed to stay at the very top tier of the crushing class. That’s most true when you consider that AR&B have worked together collaboratively on more than a few bangers, including “Daylight” and “None Shall Pass.” Weird but boldly welcoming is the fact that Garbology is their first-ever full album as a pair, and one where Blockhead’s spaced-out jazzy ambience with ancient-to-modern rhythms and Aesop’s trippy, abstract linguistics come together for something unique, brutal, and beautiful.
Starting with Blockhead’s bachelor-pad atmospherics (“Jazz Hands”) and uncluttered industrial whirrs (“The Only Picture”), the tone of Garbology sounds like a still life rooted in sadness and disgust, a notion bolstered by Aesop’s manic flow and signature flinty baritone moan stabbing his producer’s balloon-like vibes with lines such as, “I wish you nothing but the gentle kiss of yellow piss / I give you nothing but the number for my exorcist,” and lyrics focused on the wolves at the door (just the start of many animal analogies to follow), the scuffed shoes of youth, and idols turned into conmen.
To be a rapper unhappy and off-balanced seems incongruent with hip-hop’s present-day braggadocio and materialism. Aesop Rock, however, is still on his own track and at one with his own mournful metaphor-making. “I hate praising net worth over legwork / I hate ceding all power to the extroverts / I find the current social architecture hell on earth / We make shepherds and shadow them to the netherworld,” he grouses, while Blockhead blowzily riffs through bass-flipping percussive clangers such as “Legerdemain,” the soft piano-tickling “Oh Fudge,” and the heavy-breathing “All the Smartest People,” the latter of which features Aesop, cursed by black crows and graveyards, in some panicky, low-voice conversation with himself. “I am not officially a ghost,” he says casually before mumbling, “He’s no longer on the radar” to no one in particular. Whatever’s eating at Aesop Rock, you hope upon hope that he never ceases to be irked if the results are something as poignant and punchy as Garbology.